The House Always Wins

The drama around G/O Media, including the mess with Deadspin I wrote about last week, points to the ways that the individual suffers at the hand of corporate greed.

By Ernie Smith

Last week, I wrote at the end of my piece on Deadspin, speculating on its new owners: “And I promise, I won’t do a follow-up to this unless it turns out that my speculation is 100% correct.”

So yeah, about that. Basically, every bit of speculation I had about the company having an affiliation with online casino marketing proved correct. Weird feeling, huh? (I contributed some reporting to Jason’s 404 Media piece.)

But now I find myself in a strange position where the thing I thought happened has now been confirmed, proving that staying up in the middle of the night and analyzing source code and IP addresses in a bleary-eyed late-night fever dream occasionally pays off. But now that the story has been confirmed, I find myself obsessed with the bigger picture here. People are doing bad things with outlets and publications that people once cared about—G/O Media has been slowly dismantling itself for at least a year—and looking with indifference at the people who make these things valuable. In this world where we talk about companies like pogs in a mid-’90s playground, we lose sight of the individual roles that foster success, which inevitably makes each of us replaceable.

Deadspin’s new owners ditched an entire staff of people without batting an eye. Kotaku, owned by G/O, appears to have given into the waves of haters on social media, and has decided to put its entire staff on an unsustainable treadmill. These moves happen because it’s about the money that can be made, rather than the work that can be created. The workers don’t matter. Neither do the readers.


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The problem is not limited to G/O. This week, news emerged that both Gannett and McClatchy, two dominant newspaper chains, were each winnowing down or getting rid of their Associated Press affiliations. On the surface, this seems like it make sense, as local journalism has become much more of a focus than generic wire copy picked up anywhere. But this greatly changes the equation around AP’s value proposition, because the information it generates comes from the media outlets that it serves. That means the wire service is losing access to a lot of local news that is likely to eventually go national or even global, degrading its overall reach. Some might argue that the wire is outmoded. But the net result is that we will all lose access to quality information collected at a high level, in exchange for short-term profit. And seemingly these decisions were made without actually asking the people on the ground using these services.

“As our reporting staff got smaller and smaller, we relied more and more on wire services to help fill in the gaps, and losing that is incredible,” said Ilana Keller of the Asbury Park Press, in comments to The Washington Post.

(It makes one wonder: Is anyone actually talking to the workers?)

We’re in a strange moment, where overall vibes about the economy are good, but some parts of it, like media, remain busted. Pessimism still lingers. And it feels like every week, a new garbage fire gets lit and knocked over into the street, with little anyone can do about it but gawk in the way Nick Denton once encouraged.

Success and failure are at a chasm. And too many people are stuck in roles where it seems like everything can change through no fault of their own, because of decisions they weren’t even involved in.

Institutions have value, don’t get me wrong. They allow us to do better things, to work more effectively, and to reach goals that individually might be impossible. Good luck trying to build a laptop by yourself without the infrastructure of a supply chain.

But the importance of the people who create things, who make the trains run, is too often lost in our current corporate infrastructures. Companies like Google and Amazon have taken to laying people off by the tens of thousands, seemingly at random, without actually understanding what they’re killing off. Some of those people land on their feet. But culturally we have put too much weight on these corporate bodies which are ultimately in this for their own self-interests.

I guess this is partly why I see moves like the DOJ’s antitrust lawsuit against Apple, announced earlier today, as a necessary course correction. Not everyone will love this, but the truth of the matter is, corporate influence plays far too negative a role in modern society, with companies often focused on what’s the most profitable rather than what’s best for the consumer, the employee, and the broader ecosystem. A large company taking more than their fair share has knock-on effects that ripple throughout the economy—and those disparities need to be resolved whenever they appear.

Casino Sign

We’re all betting that our next gig isn’t going to set us back. (Ben Lambert/Unsplash)

The economy isn’t all bad for the individual. It is easier than ever to start some new side project or wacky idea. (And let’s concede that the phones and gadgets that companies like Google and Apple make play a key role in that.) But it is very easy to get exploited right now, to have someone take advantage of you for no reason other than the bottom line. Imagine the desperation required to sell a popular website to a company that specializes in casino affiliate marketing.

I’m convinced that at least in the media sector, this will eventually backfire. People sick of being pushed around by companies without their best interests at heart will build their own things outside an exploitative ecosystem, and at least some of those things will find success. Models designed to minimize scale will become more popular. Media outlets will look more like cool bands with interesting perspectives than never-ending empires. And maybe they’ll collaborate at a smaller scale and build their own little wire services. (A media nerd can dream, right?)

We will get back to what made journalism—and more broadly the economy—great when the role of the individual is right-sized and the power of the corporation is minimized.

Betting Links

A former French education minister apparently argued in favor of limiting internet access to three gigabytes a week. To which I say: What a simplistic view of the internet.

This handmade 3D-printed vintage Mac, in case you haven’t seen it yet, is the definition of “putting in the work.”

Know those Redbox kiosks you see everywhere? Turns out they’re kind of on their last legs, according to Janko Roettgers of Lowpass.


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Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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